Squint uprights and horizonsMake sure horizons are straight -- this is really, really important with shots over water. If you forget this, you end up with what I like to call "downhill water". It doesn't occur in nature, which is what makes it jump out at you. (It's a shame 'cuz water skiing would be so much easier on downhill water!)
The same sort of thing applies to uprights. If they're not -- and they should be, then it just jumps out at you as wrong.
So remember, when you're taking a shot, just before you press the button, check the horizon and uprights. It only takes a second and your shots will start to look better right away. So you will remember, won't you! NB That's me planting an instruction in your subconscious to help you along :)
Telegraph pole hatsBy this I mean anything which intrudes onto or across your subject. Sure, we've all seen shots where a pole seems to be growing out of someone's head but there's also the ones where a stray branch or boat aerial sticks up, sort of cutting the shot in two.
Easy enough to sort out with a step or two this way or that.
Shoot from eye-levelTheirs, not yours!
I mentioned this in a recent posting and it fits in nicely here, too. Whenever we're connecting with someone we don't feel natural about it unless we're at their eye-level.
Think about it... If you see someone stopping for more than lust a quick hello when they spot a friend at a table, what's the chances they'll hunker down as they speak? If someone's talking baby-talk (to a baby!), they'll get down to their eye level.
And so photos should be taken from the eye level of your subject. Kiddies playing on the floor, get down on one knee, babies crawling? Then get down on your tummy. You get the added bonus that, as you come into their field of view, they start connecting with you and you'll find your photos will take on that added atmosphere.
The same of course goes for pets, too, whether action or portrait.
Subject in the centreJust don't! Unless it's a group photo, you know, friends, wedding....
Your subject is always doing something, within their immediate surrounds, even if it's only daydreaming and looking off into the middle distance. To convey that feeling place your subject off to one side (away from where they're looking, if that applies) or up, or down but not centre, please!
Imagine a game of oxo, or maybe a dolls house with 9 equal-sized rooms. Wherever the lines are, wherever the interior walls are, place your subject, the horizon, that nice tree, their eyes, whatever.
For even more impact in your shot place it on one of the points where two lines (walls) cross. PS This is known as the "rule of thirds".
Finally, short and sweet...Rules are there to be broken. The only reason for having them is so that you think about it before you break them. Get used to them and then happy breaking!
As always, comments, additions, thoughts, denials -- all welcome :)